A Free Pardon

In the county of Gloucestershire in 1812 a Matthew Norway, alias Stanley, together with Rebecca Stanley and Elizabeth Stanley, appeared in court, charged with stealing some or all of the goods found with them. The Oxford Journal of 21st March 1812 noted:

Whereas Matthew Norway, alias Stanley, Rebecca Stanley and Elizabeth Stanley, belonging to a gang of Gypsies, were on 15th instant, apprehended in the parish of Cheltenham and committed to Gloucestershire Gaol for trial at the ensuing Assizes on a charge of felony and the following articles, suspected to be stolen, were found upon them.

The goods that were listed included silverware, a watch, a silk shawl and a saddle, but, as no one came forward to identify these items as belonging to them, the case was abandoned for want of evidence.

I believe that Matthew’s surname was mis-heard when he was arrested, and that he was actually Matthew Broadway, alias Stanley, who was baptised in 1780 in Barnstaple, Devon, the son of John and Eleanor Broadway. That he used Stanley as an alias, and was travelling with two Stanley women indicates, surely, that his mother, Eleanor, has been a Stanley prior to her union with John Broadway. There is a marriage that might just possibly refer to them, on 22nd November 1785 at Salehurst, Sussex, when an Elin (sic) Stanley married a John Broadway.

Of the four known children of this couple three were baptised in different parishes in Hampshire, a favoured location for the Stanleys at this period. In Easton on 13th June 1775 a daughter, Jane, was baptised, child of ‘John and Elen Broadway, travellers,’ and three years later they baptised John, son of John and Eleanor Broadway, at Old Alresford, ‘non-parishioners.’ Their last known child, James, was baptised on 26th June 1785, son of John and Eleanor Broadway, at East Tisted. Subsequently their daughter Jane appears to have baptised two children in West Tisted, John in 1798 and Martha Jane in 1800.

The connections between the Broadways and Stanleys were evident in Matthew Broadway’s partnering of Teressia Stanley; she had been baptised in 1783 in Berkshire, the daughter of Richard and Elizabeth, ‘of the tribe of Gypsies,’ so it is just possible that the Elizabeth Stanley charged with Matthew was his mother-in-law, although she would have been quite old, around 70, at the time, and did, indeed, have a grand-daughter named Rebecca, baptised in 1790. Matthew himself was about 32 years of age, and already a husband and father.

Eight years before the events of 1812 a son, also named Matthew, was baptised in Wood Norton, in Norfolk, on 16th November 1806, child of Matthew and Teressia Broadway; a clerical note adds that the child had been born on 25th October that year. He, too, was to take as a partner a member of the same tribe that his mother came from, forming a union with Henrietta Stanley (possibly alias Miller), with whom he had at least nine children.

The younger Matthew was to have a few brushes with the law, but none so harrowing as that which began in the spring of 1828, when accused of highway robbery in the county of Wiltshire. Some excellent research by Bob Broadway* has uncovered the story of Matthew Broadway’s conviction, his transfer from gaol to a prison hulk, where he remained for nine months, awaiting transportation to Australia, and his eventual release.

A brief note of his trial appeared in the Hampshire Chronicle of 28th July 1828, reporting ‘Matthew Broadway, a Gypsy, for a highway robbery on Thomas Eatwell at Avebury.’ Found guilty, he was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to transportation for life. Matthew was fortunate in some ways as Robert Peel, the then Home Secretary, was a reformer and such offences as robbery no longer carried the death penalty, and were generally reduced to imprisonment or transportation.

Another reformer, Richard Hart Davis, the MP for Bristol, took up Matthew’s case and appealed to the Home Secretary for greater clemency, but this was refused and Matthew was accordingly transferred from Fisherton Gaol to the ‘Leviathan,’ a prison hulk moored in Portsmouth harbour. However, the Bristol MP had not given up and continued to argue Matthew’s case, although it seems with little success, until in February of the following year a change occurred. Mr. Justice Park, who had sentenced Matthew the previous summer, wrote directly to Robert Peel, enclosing ‘items of interest.’ Whatever these items were, and whether Richard Hart Davis has been instrumental in acquiring such materials or not, they certainly had an effect, and the following day the Home Secretary replied:

Sir, I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 18th instant with its several relative enclosures relative to Matthew Broadway, a convict under sentence of transportation for life – and to acquaint you that, upon a full consideration of all the circumstances of the case, I have felt it to be my duty to advise His Majesty to grant the prisoner a Free Pardon.

A subsequent letter written by Robert Peel to the superintendent of convicts and the justices of the Western circuit was found by Bob Broadway in the National Archives:

Matthew Broadway, Free Pardon by H.M. Command (George R)

Whereas Matthew Broadway was at the last Summer Assizes in the County of Wilts., tried and convicted of robbery, and had judgement of death recorded against him for the same, but afterwards received Our Pardon on condition of being transported for life – in consideration of some circumstances humbly represented onto us are graciously pleased to extend Our Further Grace and Mercy into him and to Grant him Our Free Pardon for his said crime. Our Will and Pleasure therefore is that you inform him, the said Matthew Broadway, to be forthwith discharged out of custody, and for so doing this shall be your warrant given at Our Court at St. James’s this 13th day of March 1829 in the tenth year of Our Reign.

Finally at liberty, Matthew united with Henrietta Stanley and by 1832 the couple appear to have had a child together, since they are mentioned in a vagrancy hearing in February that year, travelling in a family group of Broadways and Hicks. The earliest baptism for a child of this couple that I have been able to find is for Amy, who was baptised on 9th May 1834, at Barnstaple, the daughter of Matthew and Henrietta Broadway, ‘Gypsies.’ The cleric has added ‘this child was born 1st May on the Heathfield of this parish.’ Subsequently the couple had eight more children: James, born about 1836; Rhoda, in 1841; Samuel, born the following year; Robert Charles, born in 1848; Richard, born in about 1852; Thirsa, born around a year later and named in tribute to Matthew’s mother; Matthew, born in 1854; Mary, born two years later.

  • Bob Broadway is working on a paper detailing the WWI exploits of some of Matthew and Henrietta Broadway’s descendants, and the sacrifices made for their country. I am extremely grateful to him for sharing his fascinating research materials.